Many of the trees are a few warm days away from full bloom. But we're not going to be getting warm days anytime soon. Instead, we're going to get several days of very cold winter weather. That's going to slow things down. It also has the potential to do some real damage.
The very warm weather yesterday convinced many more flowers to come out. By this morning, maybe half of the trees, give or take, are showing at least some flowers. On some trees it might only be a few, but other trees have lots of flowers out now.
Unfortunately, it's not what you'd call prime viewing weather. So far today we've had rain, wind, snow, and sleet, with plummeting temperatures. And it's going to get a lot colder and a lot windier yet. If you decide to brave the conditions, you at least won't have to contend with crowds--it's practically deserted around the Tidal Basin.
The largest cluster of trees flowering is around and in the FDR Memorial. There are others over on the paddle boat dock side. The old, grizzled trees along the stretch just to the east of the MLK Memorial are mostly lagging behind, which might stand them in good stead to ride out the cold in the coming days.
Anticipating at the coming cold snap, the National Park Service decided to push their peak bloom prediction back by five days, to March 19 to 22. The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang has opted not to revise their peak bloom prediction of March 15-19 but are leaning towards the end of that window.
Could the the coming winter weather present a problem?
Cold weather is here now and is going to settle in for a while. We'll see some very cold temperatures and perhaps even a good-sized snowstorm in the coming week. Of course, winter weather like this isn't that unusual. For example, two years ago at this time the Tidal Basin was still frozen over--you can see photos of it here. The difference this year is that the cherry blossoms are at an unusually advanced stage right when the arctic blast is hitting.
So the natural question is: Could the cold snap affect the cherry blossoms?
Yes, it could. It's going to slow things down, which is why the NPS pushed their peak bloom prediction dates back. It could also do some real damage.
As with frost, in the right (or wrong, if you will) mix of circumstances, freezing temperatures can damage the flowers and buds or even halt the bloom. It hasn't ever actually stopped Washington DC's cherry blossoms from blooming since records started being kept in the 1920s, but it remains a real possibility.
The effect that freezing temperatures and frost have on the cherry blossoms depends on what stage they're at. While they're wrapped tight, it's not much of an issue. As they get further along the stages before flowering they become more vulnerable to frost and freezing. And that's why it's potentially an issue now.
Most of the trees are currently in what's known as the peduncle elongation stage. The NPS judged that 70 percent of the Yoshinos had reached that stage as of March 8. And that just happens to be the stage at which they're most vulnerable to frost and freezing.
It's a two-pronged problem. Frost can cause damage. But even without the right mix of environment factors to actually create frost, cold temperatures below 28° can simply freeze them. Current weather forecasts are expecting temperatures to dip well below that over and over again--not just a single overnight blip. And that opens the possibility of perhaps killing off large numbers of the flowers (it doesn't hurt the trees themselves). One of the NPS experts has discussed the possibility using numbers ranging from 10 up to 90 percent of the blossoms. The Post posted an interesting article on this topic yesterday afternoon that's worth reading.
Naturally, I'll be watching it closely and posting updates.
The early bloomers are moving past their prime, and the wind and rain has started knocking some of their petals off.
This is a small cluster of flowers that I've been photographing for the past several days. Aside from the different lighting conditions, you can see how they've been progressing.
New Cherry Blossom Watch Instagram Feed
I've started a new Cherry Blossom Watch Instagram account. I'll often be able to post short updates there more quickly than on the website, so if you want to get a jump on the very latest updates, be sure to check it out.
You can follow it at @cherryblossomwatch.
Road Closures on Saturday
If you're planning to visit the Tidal Basin on Saturday--or anywhere downtown, for that matter--there will be road road closures and traffic related to the Rock 'n' Roll DC Marathon. It's not actually going by the Tidal Basin or around Hains Point, but there's likely to be spillover effects through much of the downtown area.
You can find details of road closures here.
I'm coming on the weekend of March 25-26 (or April 1-2). Will I be able to see the cherry blossoms?
Right now, there are several unusual features this year that are making it even harder than normal to have much confidence in predicting what's going to happen, when. There's an early bloom. There's an unusually broad spread of development stages. And we're seeing seesawing temperatures, from very warm to very cold.
In light of the revised NPS peak bloom forecast, the weekend of March 25-26 is now looking much more promising than it was before simply because it's now closer to the predicted peak bloom dates. If the peak bloom ends up happening on March 19, the trees will be well on their way out by the 25th. If it falls on March 22, there should be much more still left to see. It's also possible that even the revised peak bloom prediction misses the mark.
I've put together a photo timeline that gives a sense of what you might expect to see in the days after peak bloom. The photos are only a rough guide--it might be that we end up with an unusually drawn-out and staggered bloom this year.
The chances are much reduced for the weekend of April 1-2. The NPS predicts that the Kwanzan cherry blossoms will reach peak bloom on April 11. There are fewer of them, but they're very pretty. I have more information on them and how to find them here.
Where can I find cherry blossoms blooming now?
In the past day, many more trees have started flowering and it's now much easier to find cherry blossoms out. It's still nothing like full bloom, but you don't have to look very hard to find some.
The largest cluster is around and in the FDR Memorial, but there are trees starting to flower all around the Tidal Basin.
Maine Ave SW Parking Lot
It's closed for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. They've started setting up temporary tents and facilities for the Welcome Center due to open on March 15.
Traffic Restrictions on Ohio Drive
It currently has normal traffic patterns. And it's still very quiet around the Tidal Basin, so finding a parking spot isn't a problem.
Photos from this Morning
FDR Memorial Water Features
Some, but not all, of the FDR Memorial's water features are back in business.
Want to Help Support DC's Cherry Trees?
If you'd like to help support the care and upkeep of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, the Trust for The National Mall has launched an Endow a Cherry Tree Campaign. Donations go to the official Cherry Tree Endowment, which will give the National Park Service additional resources to fund the care, maintenance, and possible replacement of the cherry trees. You can find more information here.
The Trust is dedicated to marshaling private support for maintaining and improving the history National Mall area. I'm not affiliated with the Trust--just an admirer of their efforts.